New beginnings can be very exciting when they are our choice. We choose to buy a new home, start a new job, get married, etc. When the new beginning is not our choice, as in the case of devastating tragedies, the decision to start a new life can be extremely difficult to make. I remember visiting with people right after the devastating floods of 2016 in Louisiana. The overwhelming sense of shock caused by the no-name storm created a state of paralysis in many people. Days and weeks after the event, many people were still camping out on their own backyards simply unable to mobilize themselves to apply for FEMA, find resources to clean their flooded homes, or drive to near social services agencies to obtain needed services.
I was the Flood Relief Coordinator for the Diocese in 2016 and by the end of 2017 I had become an expert in emergency management. This was arduous work of which I remain very proud even today. Sadly, Louisiana is now undergoing a similar and, perhaps, worse tragedy after hurricane Ida. The irony of this storm has not escaped me. It barreled into the State on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in the history of the poorest state in the nation. And now, once again, many poor people are in emergency shelters waiting for the State to allow them back into their destroyed homes to assess the damage. And, just as they have done several times before, they will begin the painful process of rebuilding. Some will be blessed by insurance payouts; others will struggle to rebuild their lives for years. Yet others will adapt, driven deeper into poverty, but made more resilient by the storm. They will dwell under bridges, pitch their tents in parks, and wander the unforgiving French Quarter streets looking for food. Children will be dislocated, families will be broken up, and some will give up and move out of the area looking for greener grass someplace else.
I don’t know about you, but I always feel so powerless when these storms touch down. I feel I could be doing more. The devastation is so grand that my efforts always feel insufficient. At this moments I try to remember that I can only do what I can do. At these times I remember the story of the child at the beach throwing crabs back into the ocean. At some point an adult asks him, “Why are you doing this? There are thousands of crabs washed ashore, your efforts won’t make a difference.” The child looked at the stranger and said, “It will make a difference to this one!” And that is the point, exactly. We may not be able to reverse the ravages of Ida, but we can choose two or three families to help.
Many of you know that my wife and I are housing a dear friend, who is a priest in the Diocese of Louisiana and had to evacuate his home in Metairie. This young priest was ordained on the same day as Deacon Beth Anne Nelson, his first child was born 5 weeks early via C-section barely two weeks ago, and he has no support systems in this country other than his wife’s cousin in Dallas. Sadly, this cousin is in no position to help. Compounding his troubles, this friend just learned this last Monday that the contents of his rental home are most likely a total loss because of serious water damage.
After a momentary episode of shock and profound sadness, my friend did what most priests would do: He jumped on the phone and started checking on his neighbors. He quickly learned that two other families who live in the same complex also had a total loss and were staying at two different shelters. According to him, these two families also struggle financially.
After a conversation with my staff, we have decided to postpone our campaign for pet food to the month of October. As a campaign for the month of September we have decided to do a collection for my friend and his two neighbors. I know we have been asking a lot from you all, but please understand that the goal here is not huge. It would be my desire to fundraise about $6,000 to have the church issue 3 checks of $2,000 to each of these three families to help them with some basic necessities until they figure out what to do. Neither my friend, nor his neighbors, had renters insurance, but FEMA may be able to help. The three families have filled out applications. We also have a parishioner who is willing donate several beautiful pieces of furniture when my friend is ready to return (Not for at least a month.)
At this point we are not collecting clothes or additional furniture because we don’t yet know what type of an apartment he will be able to rent when he returns home. If we have a need for furniture in the future, I will make that need known to the congregation. To help, please write a check to the Rector’s Discretionary Fund, with a MEMO line: Ida Assistance or donate online. If any of you are in a position to help more substantially, please contact Episcopal Relief and Development at https://www.episcopalrelief.org/ or 1-855-312-4325. They are truly the experts and I personally know the amazing work they have done in Louisiana in years past.
Please continue to pray for all victims of this horrible disaster. May our Lord continue to be with you,